Disabled voters ‘hindered’ says charity

By Aled Thomas

Too many disabled people are being disenfranchised by local authorities, says charity Scope.

At the 2005 general election Scope surveyed 2,000 polling stations and says it found 68% of them had one or more serious hindrance to disabled voters.

Problems included no access for wheelchair users, voting information in hard-to-read formats or polling station staff who were unhelpful or unaware of disabled voters’ needs.

Postal voting offered no solution as 63% of disabled people Scope surveyed said they also found this inaccessible.

Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of Scope, said: “In a modern democracy like Britain, it should not be so difficult for disabled people to cast their vote. Disabled people make up a significant proportion of the electorate, and their needs cannot be overlooked.

“It is not too late for local authorities to make a difference by doing things like installing temporary ramps or providing training for staff.”

Kay Jenkins, a disabled voter from Rhondda Cynon Taf in South Wales, has experienced difficulties. She said: “I work full time, I pay my taxes, and I want to vote. Making voting accessible is not difficult, but for me the experience of voting hasn’t improved.

“Changes are needed if disabled people are to have equal access to elections.”

Scope says that this year’s election will see the use of inaccessible polling stations, some located in caravans or temporary buildings.

In the run-up to the election Scope is running campaign – called Polls Apart – to improve access to voting for disabled people.

The charity has produced a checklist guide to help local authorities improve access. It is also asking people to fill in a survey about how accessible they find their voting experience.

There are an estimated 10 million disabled people in the UK – with an estimated 15,000 disabled people in each constituency.